Monday, September 5, 2011

What I've Learned by Adam Rubin (TFFT Full Circle Program Director)

It would be impossible for me to accurately reflect on the last 8 months running the Full Circle Program, a time which I’ve learned more personally and professionally that I did throughout 4 years of college. I can’t say enough about the TFFT staff and everything that they’ve taught me. Every member of the staff works together and truly respects the advice and opinions of one another. This provides for a working environment that encourages creativity and development, which has allowed for TFFT’s programs to be what they are and experience continual progress. I really feel lucky to have worked with these people; to gain this experience and have the opportunity to share so many ideas, in and outside of the office.

I think the first thing I can take away from this job is that sometimes you need to step back and remember that we are always learning, no matter how old we are or how much we think we know. There came a time during the first term of Full Circle while teaching the kids about Life Skills, where I realized how little time I actually spend thinking about and implementing these same skills. Life Skills are so built in to western education and most kids are socialized and subconsciously raised thinking of these things, to the extent that I think we may overlook the necessity to spend time directly covering these concepts. All of the sudden, I found myself reviewing my own lesson on Decision Making when trying to decide in March if I was going to stay until September. For one of the first times in my life I really understood my Goals and Dreams, and what exactly I needed to do in order to accomplish them. Beyond the individual level, I realized how important all of these skills and concepts are to success of TFFT and any organization, and I saw these different elements at work. Ironically enough, I was learning and truly understanding the very same lessons that I was teaching to the kids. From this I took away: never take for granted something you are sure that you already know, and don’t be afraid to re-examine something which has long been internalized within your thought process.

The first time I came to Tanzania was in 2009 as a volunteer for Support for International Change, teaching about HIV/AIDS at schools in the community. I was sure when I finished that program and came home that I wanted to dedicate my career to fighting HIV/AIDS, perhaps directing an organization like UNAIDS. I’ll always have a personal connection to this cause and continue HIV/AIDS programs as I am now, but TFFT has helped me to realize and focus my desire to work with kids and in the education sector. My time here has allowed me to learn so much about the discrepancies in the education system, problems I intend to address when I can eventually start my own NGO. TFFT has given me an insight and experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else, and was a huge step forwards in achieving the goals that I have set for myself.

Both times I have come to Tanzania have been with Support for International Change, the first time as a volunteer and the second time as a Program Coordinator. During the two months I was here as a volunteer and 3 months as a coordinator I felt like the biggest impact transgressing was that which others were having on me and how my life being affected as a result. Not until recently, during Full Circle second term, did I realize and come to understand the potential impact I may be having on others. Talking to our kids after they didn’t meet their expectations academically and felt like they failed. Trying to refocus them on how they can improve both academically and psychologically, trying to maintain their self-esteem and to make sure they know success can’t be given or taken away by teachers but can only by proven by how hard they work and if they believe in themselves and adapt new study habits and work together with their teachers and their friends.

This was a big turning point for me: Academic Progress Day walking around Usa River Academy individually with Julieth, Sophia, Rosemary, Ashura and Paulina. Letting them explain what they really thought the problem was and why they struggled. Hearing from Ashura that she uses the diary I gave her to help her on bad days and to write down her secret thoughts, along with goals and dreams so she can keep track of them. To see a definite change in the confidence and emotional expression of our kids. To see the kids realize that their emotional well-being could be affecting their academic performance and to watch them grow throughout the year.

There are so many things I will never forget and so many memories. Taking the secondary students to Nkoaranga Orphanage for community service projects; the “Together We Can Make It” mural they painted and seeing them care for the babies and help the mamas. The Girls Empowerment Workshop with class 4-6; and seeing Ashura lead the other girls in the “We Can Do It” pasha. Making the Dream Tree with class 1-3, where Yusuph told everyone “My name is Yusuph and I am beautiful”. Holding hands with Rachel and Rose as we walk into the Dream Clinic for their checkups. Coming on a Saturday and making hygiene posters with Sophia, Julieth, Paulina, Miriam and Rosemary, without even needing to ask for their help. Hearing Rosemary tell me “I don’t think I can be first in my class. But I’m going to be first in the Full Circle Program. I know I can do it”. And then to actually see her achieve it. Giving Student of the Week certificates to students who could never expect it and thought they could never be anything in class; to see the smile of surprise, disbelief and pride on Neema Samson’s face. Julieth’s smile, Esther’s giggle, Rosemary’s laugh. Sarah’s greetings from afar, Sophia’s trust, Nicemary’s ambition. It’s so much to leave behind and so much to look forward to. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of our students. These kids have all the potential in the world, they just need a voice of reason to remind them that their futures lie beyond the boundaries of school; within the choices they make, the goals they set, and most importantly the vision of themselves that they hold within and project to others. A hand to hold is not always enough, they need to be listened to and challenged to understand themselves before they can know what to expect from themselves. They need to cry freely and let go of pain which they’ve bottled up, instead of hiding it behind a nervous smile or playful anxiety. They need to know that they have the ability to change the circumstances of their lives, and that they are the only ones who have control of that.

I think this is the greatest lesson I have learned in my time here. You can only help someone to realize what they are capable of doing, but that is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. You can’t expect a kid to succeed without any self-confidence, and you can’t expect them to have that confidence until they know and believe in themselves. They need to know that they should be working hard in order to accomplish the goals they have set for themselves, not to avoid scold and disappointment. I’ve realized how critical it is to focus on praise and positive reinforcement, and to always keep encouraging. If you’re looking to build a self-esteem which never even knew where to start for children that never had the chance to grow up with these lessons, first they need to know that it is possible to feel good about themselves. I hope that these lessons resonated with our kids, and I can’t wait to come back and see how far they’ve come.

1 comment:

Kaitlin Rogers said...

What a wonderful reflection on your time with TFFT! I think you've really captured the spirit of TFFT in this post. The kids and our team were so lucky to have your dedication to the Full Circle program, and your impact is far greater than you can imagine!